The California Courier, the oldest independent English-language Armenian newspaper in the United States, is 50 years old this year!
In 1958, two young men in Fresno — George Mason (Elmassian) and Reese Cleghorn — had the foresight to publish an English-language newspaper, so that those unfamiliar with their native tongue could stay in touch with community news.
Cleghorn went on to become Professor and Dean of the School of Journalism at the University of Maryland. Mason continued publishing the Courier with his popular weekly opinion column titled, "This and That" and wrote amusing Armenian wisecracks under the rubric "Uncle Hadji" and "Dear Dickran."
After moving to Los. Angeles and becoming a prominent stock broker, Mason employed a succession of part-time editors and stringers. The most colorful personality to run the paper was a Japanese-American by the name of Seico Hanashiro, who worked at the Fresno post office during the day and published the Courier from his garage in his spare time. In the process, Seico knew more about the Armenian community than did most Armenia’s!
In 1983, Mason hired as full time editor of the Courier a young man by the name of Harut Sassounian, who subsequently became the publisher of the newspaper and moved it from Fresno to Glendale.
Mason, a seasoned writer, gave this young man a piece of good advice on day one: No matter what’s happening in your life, you have to write a column each week! Get yourself in the discipline of writing regularly, even if you are ill, don’t feel like writing, or are out of town. Never skip your weekly column because once you stop writing, it will be more difficult for you to start writing again!
I followed Mason’s wise counsel. I have written more than 1,200 opinion columns in the past 25 years without skipping a single week. At the request of many readers, a selection of my columns will be published in book form in the near future.
When I look back at the early years of my employment, I am amazed how the newspaper was published without a computer or any other modern equipment we now take for granted. The Courier had neither e-mail nor even a fax machine. I used to write my columns by hand on a piece of paper. I would then rush to the Greyhound Bus depot in Glendale and pay $5 to put my column on the next bus to Fresno. Seico would go and pick it up from the bus in Fresno, just in time before the paper went to print.
At first, most subscribers who were used to reading society news in the pages of the Courier, resented this newcomer who persisted on writing political analysis week after week. Fortunately, the Courier’s readers eventually developed a keen interest in his columns. With the advent of the internet, these columns began to be posted on scores of websites and reprinted in English and in translation in dozens of newspapers in the U.S., and in other countries, including Armenia.
The USC Institute of Armenian Studies will recognize the founders of The California Courier during a gala banquet to be held at the Hilton Universal City on May 18. Regrettably, George Mason passed away a couple of years ago. However, his associate publisher, Reese Cleghorn is invited to the gala banquet to reminisce the early days of the Courier and pay special tribute to Mason.
The tribute to the Courier is part of the Armenian Institute’s salute to "California’s Armenian community for 50 years of progress and prosperity." The banquet, expected to be attended by the Who’s Who of the Armenian American community, will honor actor Mike Connors, former Gov. George Deukmejian, former Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Ignatius, former basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, and corporate entrepreneur Ronald Tutor.
Using the newly digitized 50-year archives of The California Courier, the USC Institute is preparing a special documentary that will highlight the achievemen’s of more than 50 distinguished California Armenia’s who have become major stars in their respective fields.
The banquet will also pay tribute to The Lincy Foundation for its generous philanthropy in Armenia and the Diaspora, and will welcome Mr. Edward Roski, Jr., the incoming Chairman of the USC Board of Trustees.
For more information about the gala banquet of the USC Institute of Armenian Studies, please call 213-821-3943 or e-mail: [email protected]